I’ve done a near dozen reviews for new roguelike games over the last 20 months; ever since the commercial and critical success of Hades smaller studios, in particular, have rushed to grab the new take on the death cycling genre with all manner of novel twists and unique mash ups being tried. And it makes sense for the smaller budget studio to go for the roguelike genre in particular since its very nature lends itself to recycled assets and shorter game loops, allowing even the most minute of budgets to stretch into something that can be appear much bigger.
But amongst those near dozen new take roguelikes it is Yogscast Games and Triheart Studios’ early access title Golfie that has actually offered something promising to be genuinely different and entirely unique.
Described as a “mini golf meets a deck-building and roguelike”, Golfie has you putting through a series of challenging procedurally generated mini golf courses, using various card power ups and perks to survive to the very last hole. As bizarre as the mashup between golf, deckbuilding, and roguelike sounds, the concept ends up mostly working quite well. As for the execution, however, Golfie still has a few more strokes to make up if it wants to reach par.
Golf With Powers
The gameplay for Golfie is surprisingly simple, despite its mashing of 3 disparate concepts. You putt from the beginning of a mini golf course to the end, trying to do so in a limited number of strokes—the same as any mini golf game. However your basic shot is pretty weak so you need to augment it with various card power ups taken randomly from your deck, each of which can stack for stronger or more unique effects. For example you can tack on a power shot for more force; add another power shot and you’ll get even more force; try a lob shot card with the power shot and you’ll get big swing through the air; add two lob shots and your arc will be steeper and higher; and so on. New cards can be added to your deck by hitting crystals throughout courses. You can also buy perks and items by hitting vending machines sometimes found in a course.
Any hits out of bounds, say into the water surrounding a course or a boiling lava pit, or traps hit on the course will reduce your health. If you also don’t make it into the hole within the allotted number of shots for the course then any shots taken beyond the par will also each reduce your health by one each time. Should you fall to 0 hp your run is over and the game ends. Your goal therefore is to try get through all 18 holes without dying, or at least as far as you can since doing so is no easy task—hence the roguelike tag.
Abilities to mini golf is nothing new—you only need look at the likes of Golf It, Mario Golf, or any other slew of recent golf party games—but Golfie tries to differentiate itself with the gradual increase of ability effectiveness through its deckbuilding and roguelike systems. Unfortunately however these aspects of the game don’t quite work how you might want.
For the game to be considered a roguelike I would have expected some sort of gradual increase in your ability and stat set over time as you try runs again and again, wherein your “character” will be that little stronger nearly every time you play. The same, you would think, would go for the deckbuilding aspect of the game, every bit of progress allowing you to build up your deck and customize a perfect set to suit your playstyle. However, neither of these are the case for Golfie, at least not as far as I seem to be able to understand it so far.
Your level will increase each time you play to unlock cosmetics and cards and perks, but the cards and perks then only become available to the pool of options that can then show up in the game. There are no permanent stat upgrades, and neither is there an option to change your starting deck. Your deck always starts with the basic lob, curve and power shot, and sometimes a random card. It makes it a little disappointing when you do unlock more exciting cards because it is still a toss up for whether you’ll encounter them on a run.
Of course I can see the argument for not allowing full control of the deck since then the game might then become too easy, but at the very least I do think it would do to allow players to block or limit some cards from appearing in the pool (say start a deck with x frequency for “jump” cards to appear, x-1 frequency of curve etc), that way players could then strategize further and it would also build more of the roguelike part of the game. As it stands it is just golf with some abilities given in a random selection.
Lands Just Off the Green
The gameplay itself for Golfie is good fun in short bursts. I did find myself drawn into quick half hour bursts of trying multiple runs, simply because there is something quite satisfying about navigating through the courses themselves. Trying out different abilities on top of each other and experimenting with the results is good fun, and is probably where the game succeeds most. The procedurally generated courses are also of a nice variety with some providing good complexity and trial, while others straightforward. You won’t get bored of the courses since they do tend to be well. designed with an eye on obstacles and traps that make use of the game’s card abilities.
There does however just feel like there is generally something missing from the game to keep it thriving currently. The roguelike aspect needs far more fleshed out; at the moment the tag pretty much just seems to mean that levels are procedurally generated in a random sequence. Even some simple obtainable upgrades like a boost to basic shot power, or increases to total health, would give something to strive for and allow the roguelike tag to actually ring more true. The deckbuilding part of the game also perhaps needs tweaked to give more control to the player and again allow them to feel more like they are progressing with each run.
Fortunately Golfie is still in early access and the game is upfront from the go that some aspects are still missing, so it is entirely possible they may be later built in—although I would have questions over a release that misses what would otherwise seem like integral parts of the gameplay.
Multiplayer is promised to be added in too which would add a new dimension to the game, one which I think could have a lot of promise if done right. The game, in all, still has time to make up the strokes, but so far Golfie is missing its hole in one and has currently found itself landing just off the green, rolling ever so close to the rough.
Final Score: 5.5/10